D&D 5E The problem with Pet classes and a possible solution?

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
So

A number of D&D subclasses have "pets" - the ranger beastmaster is a classic example, but there are others - the steel defender from the artificer, the drakewarden, etc. (I don't see familiars as really fitting into this, they are too "minor").

The idea behind this concept is quite sound, as is quite clear that a portion of players really like this type of characters. But do they work well in play? From what I've seen in person, and from reports I've read from others, not very well.

The problem is like this: Because of the action economy and bound accuracy, the pet can't be too good, otherwise you're essentially doubling your offensive power so this limits them somewhat, balancing them is tricky. However, because of the way HP work, the pet is also a vulnerability. If a barbarian has lost half their HP, they still can fight just as well. But if the pet has lost that much HP, it's kaput. Another example of this dynamic is a bit how a goblin duo gets to attack twice and an orc only has one, but if a hit for 8 hp hits, the orc is still swinging, but the goblin duo has just lost half their offensive power (as one of the 2 goblins is down).

This leads the player to try to protect their pet, because a not insignificant portion of their power is invested in said pet. Furthermore, some are emotionally attached to their bear/robot/etc. This leads to players having their PC spend turns defending/buffing/healing their pets instead of taking more impactful action on the battlefield.

A current Drakkenheim playtest has replicated the issue - but also perhaps pointed to a solution. I am going to skip most of the details, but I decided to playtest this class (the apothecary, int-based spellcaster), and my party was a bit weak in the tank department. 2 subclasses in particular seemed like they could fit the bill: The reanimator, who can create a frankenstein-monster esque creature to fight for them (ie, another "pet subclass"), or the Mutagenist, who becomes the monster, a bit like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. After looking at the two options, I quickly realized that once again, the pet subclass wasn't really delivering, while turning into the hulk and smashing things was quite effective. (AND fun!)

My particular PC is a goblin (Mr Butters). But what if Mr Butters, instead of becoming a hulk like monster, rode on the back of one, or perhaps hid behind debris and shouted orders and encouragement to the monster while doing nothing of significance during the fight. This would be mere re-flavoring - the HP, the AC, the action economy, would be identical as if Mr Butters had transformed. But the feel would be very different. Perhaps there should be a shared pool of HP, and the player decides in this fight if they are going to "tag in" their pet (to use a wrestling analogy). This would fix the action economy balancing issue and allow pet design to be more bold and impactful.

I don't have quite all the details (the Mutagenist has the stats for the hulk-like monster, what should they be for the other improved pets?) but I think there is potential here...
 

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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Tbh I think taking the revised ranger, but with custom pet stats a la primal beasts, giving the pet about as much HP as a rogue of the same level, but making its attack power not that great unless you spend spell slots and actions to boost it, would completely fix the Beastmaster. Like 100%.


But, if you feel the BM with a survivable pet that is okay offensively at-will with no actions from the PC, but a beast (pun intended) when the PC uses action economy and limited resources, is too much, I think your idea has a lot of merit.

For some concepts, your idea may have more merit than the standard.

Also…sharing HP may not be a bad idea. Like, the BM ranger effectively has a pool of weirdly situational THP, why not just make that relationship more direct? The pet is alive and conscious as long as you are, and you change your hit dice to d12, but you share 1 HP pool, meaning when either of you gets hurt, you lose HP, and when either of you go down, you both do. You can spend a spell slot and a reaction to have only 1 of you drop unconscious, and you’re at 1 HP rather than 0.
 

Let's remember the monster and animal pets are practically shoeless, and that may be too dangerous in some terrains.

Sometimes I suspect Hasbro is wishing WotC to create a pokemon-trainer class for D&D, something close to the summoner class from Pathfinder. And my own idea is about to mix two game mechanics, the incarnum and the vestige pact magic, but with some simple mechanic. The idea is like this:

The summoner calls a "pokemon" using the game mechanic of vestige pact magic, and this can be replaced with other with the same ways. In the combat the summoner can "spend" essence points to unlock special powers or monster traits, most of them like time-limited (metamagic) feats.

Other idea is the monster ally class, allowing a player to controll two PCs because these share a telepatic link. The group shouldn't become too powerful because the distribution of the XP rewards should be like if there was an extra PC because that is it.

But I warn some player would want to go a step beyond, summoned monster allies who could wear armours and use melee weapons. Other warning is players using astral constructs or time-limite allies to explore dungeons to avoid the risk of traps.
 

Audiomancer

Adventurer
I can’t speak to any of the other pet classes, but I am currently playing a 7th-level Battle Smith Artificer. When I first got access to the Steel Defender, I was intrigued to see how it would play out, and I’ve been very much underwhelmed.

The 1d8 damage per attack is awfully anemic against the kind of enemies the party faces at 7th/8th level. And I’ve yet to effectively use its reaction ability to impose Disadvantage on an enemy attack.

This may be due to the play style with my group. The DM likes to pit us against big boss monsters who mostly use AoE effects. So we roll more saves than he rolls attacks. Also, most of the other players like to build characters focused on melee combat. When they run up and swarm the bad guy, it doesn’t leave much room on the grid for Professor Walnuts (I flavored the Defender as my pet squirrel piloting a squirrel-shaped armored mech suit).
 

Pets RAW are too squishy and die too soon. Low AC and then also low HP means they are a liability in combat from the moment you roll initiative.

There are then two solutions, and both work well:

1. The wizard familiar (RAW): Lives in a pocket dimension, cannot fight, and can be recreated/summoned again using components that are relatively easy to find. No problem in combat, and no crying players who just lost their beloved pet.

2. The pet that levels up. Ranger pets level up a little bit, so that's a step in the right direction. But they are still too puny and squishy. At our table, pets are roleplayed by the DM (so they are pretty useless in solving puzzles and a liability in social encounters), but controlled by the players (emphasis on plural) in combat. So the character sheet of the pet rotates. Now, since it rotates, nobody cares if that pet is as strong as the other PCs because everybody gets to play with it. So, it gets armor, increased HP and even some other tricks. And now it can survive a fireball. Problem solved.

Option 2 only works if the players want to work together with the pet. If one player claims the pet ("but it's part of my class") then we need to balance it and you are stuck with a squishy pet that will die in an AoE attack soon.
 

Lycurgon

Adventurer
I have recently finished a campaign that ran from Lvl 3-12 as a Drakewarden Ranger. I liked having the Draconic companion and I though it worked well. It got to help block enemies and helped with my damage out put both by boosting my attacks and doing its own attacks when I had a spare Bonus Action. A lot of the time it was more damage to use the Bonus Attack for the Drake than for something else. And with the Drake if it dies it is just a spell slot to bring it back, so no need to do suboptional tactics to keep it alive when you can get it back so easily. I had more HP on the table than anyone else and could replace the Drakes component of that if needed. I definitely found it to be fun and effective. It wasn't as powerful and as impactful as a character but I wouldn't expect it to be.

Other takes I have seen is Matt Colville's Beastheart Class which has a pet and a selection of pet options including Monstrosities, beast, and even a dragon. Because the focus of the class is the companion pet, the base character is less powerful on their own than other classes and the pet is more powerful. I haven't seen it in play yet so not entirely sure how the balance is.

I have playtested a summoner class that uses the character Action to control the summoned creature(s) fully so the creature can be quite a bit more powerful than standard pets.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Hot Take: Pet Classes only work as people wish if the main class is nearly devoid of power to itself.

I think 5e could do a half caster d6 HD shaman class that has a d10 HD spirit pet that they can heal, buff , and resummon via spell slots. Subclasses whether it's a spiritual animal, spirit warrior, an elemental, a magic weapon, or punch ghost (oraoraoraoraora)
 

Another way of dealing with the squishiness of pets is to have them immediately run out of the combat when they reach 0 HP instead of dying/falling unconscious. Say that the pet's HP represents how long it is willing to fight rather than it's health. That way the petmaster doesn't have to feel he needs to protect the pet, but can use it to it's limit in every fight.
 

Tales and Chronicles

Jewel of the North, formerly know as vincegetorix
I'm probably the only one who dont care if the pet is actually like a 2nd character. Give it the same actions and HP as a character, I dont mind. It still doesnt have any features, weapons, armors, spells, language etc

Its just a bag of HP with mediocre attacks and AC, with maybe 1-2 trained skills. Having its own set of actions isnt the end of the world.

Or the other option would be to do like the shepherd druid and remove any built in ''pet'' feature and give the ranger extra-casting of summoning spells and features that make said summon better. Like a down-castable Summon Beast spells from 3rd level, with a free cast Prof per day. Add Find Familiar, shared senses and proficiencies with summons, unbreakable concentration on summons etc
 

aco175

Legend
Pets can act like sidekicks, which is basically another PC in the party. Might not be great if the party is already at 5-6 people.

Pets could get a boost a number or times per day. They could be minor for most of the encounters, but a few times they get a boost that lets them do some cool things, maybe a bit like rage where it lets the barbarian stick around longer. Some sort of primal awakening that boosts the pet a few 'levels' for a fight. This way the pet gets to shine some and the rest of the party can shine most of the time.
 

13th Age's solution, which worked well in my experience, was to make the pet the bulk of the ranger's power budget (2/3 talents). If my ranger had ever needed to fight without her pet spider, she'd be a mediocre-at-best warrior (think of a fighter without any features beyond fighting style).

I think something like that could work in 5e, but you'd need a really thin chassis to build off of - so the base ranger would have essentially just martial weapons, a fighting style, and expertise in a couple of skills. Magic, weapon tricks, pets, everything else would need to come from the subclass (or not).
 

Celebrim

Legend
The biggest problem with pets in my experience isn't really balance, although I grant that can be a problem.

The biggest problem with pets, steeds, summoned creatures, henchmen, minions, etc. is that when the PCs become a small army instead of a squad of commandos it massively slows down play. I groan inside whenever a player wants to play a concept that invests in minions of any sort because that one player's turn can take as long as the entire rest of the party.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
I'm going to try out giving the Tasha's companion (slightly buffed at higher levels) to the Ranger as a baseline feature. It is 5 HP/level and can be recovered in a short rest easily.

Balance-wise, I'm treating it as a per-short-rest heal, on par with the Fighter's Second Wind (which I also buffed as part of this pass). I gave it fire-and-forget (give it an order, and it keeps following it) capabilities - so in a complex situation (new targets etc), it consumes more action economy, but in a simple one it consumes less.

Rangers have enough of an offensive gap problem that I can give it damage of roughly half of a PC; that is enough to make taking it out not a complete dead-weight loss. Keep it down to a single attack to reduce the time it takes to adjudicate it.

Then buff its defence against AOEs - give it "if you pass a save and would take half damage, instead take none", proficiency in all saves, both Ranger and Beast get advantage on any saving throws that apply to both of them, Ranger can expend a spell slot to boost against a save, etc.

The amount of power budget you need to add to the Fighter to make this seem balanced isn't all that much. The big one is Second Wind being (fighter level/2)d10 (min 1d10) (which makes Fighter durability approach Barbarian durability).
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
13th Age's solution, which worked well in my experience, was to make the pet the bulk of the ranger's power budget (2/3 talents). If my ranger had ever needed to fight without her pet spider, she'd be a mediocre-at-best warrior (think of a fighter without any features beyond fighting style).

I think something like that could work in 5e, but you'd need a really thin chassis to build off of - so the base ranger would have essentially just martial weapons, a fighting style, and expertise in a couple of skills. Magic, weapon tricks, pets, everything else would need to come from the subclass (or not).
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, all you need to do to accomplish this is put a decent chunk of the pets power in a feature that uses spell slots.

I wouldn’t love that version, but it’d be a lot better than removing Spellcasting from the base class or making the pet most of the classes power. That dynamic fits a “mage or priest with pet” class a lot more than it does the ranger.

Having played with a revised BM and DMed for one as well, it’s nicely balanced, doesn’t overshadow anyone else, and is a lot of fun.
 

Stormonu

Legend
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, all you need to do to accomplish this is put a decent chunk of the pets power in a feature that uses spell slots.

I wouldn’t love that version, but it’d be a lot better than removing Spellcasting from the base class or making the pet most of the classes power. That dynamic fits a “mage or priest with pet” class a lot more than it does the ranger.

Having played with a revised BM and DMed for one as well, it’s nicely balanced, doesn’t overshadow anyone else, and is a lot of fun.
Perhaps have a method where the Ranger can dump their spell slots into the pet (healing, damage, special abilities maybe?) akin to how the Paladin uses spells to power their smite.

Wouldn't hurt if the Paladin could do something similar to dump spell power into empowering their mount.

<EDIT> should also work for doing the same with familiars and maybe the artificer's defender.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Perhaps have a method where the Ranger can dump their spell slots into the pet (healing, damage, special abilities maybe?) akin to how the Paladin uses spells to power their smite.

Wouldn't hurt if the Paladin could do something similar to dump spell power into empowering their mount.
Sure, and/or just “you can spend a spell slot as a reaction when initiative is rolled, or as a bonus action on your turn, to grant the companion [value] THP, +X AC, and +Y damage.” With a scale by spell slot level.
 

ECMO3

Hero
Tbh I think taking the revised ranger, but with custom pet stats a la primal beasts, giving the pet about as much HP as a rogue of the same level, but making its attack power not that great unless you spend spell slots and actions to boost it, would completely fix the Beastmaster. Like 100%.


But, if you feel the BM with a survivable pet that is okay offensively at-will with no actions from the PC, but a beast (pun intended) when the PC uses action economy and limited resources, is too much, I think your idea has a lot of merit.

For some concepts, your idea may have more merit than the standard.

Also…sharing HP may not be a bad idea. Like, the BM ranger effectively has a pool of weirdly situational THP, why not just make that relationship more direct? The pet is alive and conscious as long as you are, and you change your hit dice to d12, but you share 1 HP pool, meaning when either of you gets hurt, you lose HP, and when either of you go down, you both do. You can spend a spell slot and a reaction to have only 1 of you drop unconscious, and you’re at 1 HP rather than 0.
I think the problem with this is if you keep the actions equivalent of a Ranger's normal actions and spells then there are far more hit points to "spend" than a normal Ranger has without giving anything up.

I think sharing hps is a great idea, don't give the pet hps at all but tie it your Ranger. I would not give him any more hps though, still 1d10. With the extra actions the pet affords this is still a powerful boost. You might have to make some sort of ruling for AOEs, it would not be fair to get fireballed and both of you take 8d6 .... or maybe you do make it a d12 like you suggested and make him take double damage on AOEs that catch both the PC and the pet.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, all you need to do to accomplish this is put a decent chunk of the pets power in a feature that uses spell slots.

I wouldn’t love that version, but it’d be a lot better than removing Spellcasting from the base class or making the pet most of the classes power. That dynamic fits a “mage or priest with pet” class a lot more than it does the ranger.

Having played with a revised BM and DMed for one as well, it’s nicely balanced, doesn’t overshadow anyone else, and is a lot of fun.
Huh... that's actually an interesting idea. In the Beastmaster subclass the Ranger removes all the spells they know / have access to... and instead you create a list of "Pet Abilities" that are used by the Ranger player as though they were spells (and using the spell slots the base Ranger has.) They aren't "spells" per se... but they use the spellcasting chassis to give the Ranger and pet special powerful abilities beyond the pet's normal statblock.

So for instance you could make a "Swipe" ability that lets the pet hit every enemy adjacent to them using their base attack. Or a "Paired Attack" ability at some level that gives the Ranger an attack while the pet does bonus damage kind of like one would get from the Booming/Green Flame Blade cantrips. Or perhaps a "Primal Rage" ability that gives the pet Temp HP at the top of each of the Ranger's turns equal to 2x the Pet Ability's (IE spell's) level. (I'm just spitballing here, don't take my math or balancing on any of this stuff as gospel.)

What you end up getting is a non-casting Ranger who instead gets powerful special maneuvers they have "trained" their pet to do that have the power level of spells, but which aren't. Yes, someone would need to create abilities for the pet for 1st thru 4th level slots (or at least refluff current Ranger spells to become them)... but it would certainly give pets more options and things to do while maintaining a modicum of balance since you are using an already-established mechanical system for it.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Huh... that's actually an interesting idea. In the Beastmaster subclass the Ranger removes all the spells they know / have access to... and instead you create a list of "Pet Abilities" that are used by the Ranger player as though they were spells (and using the spell slots the base Ranger has.) They aren't "spells" per se... but they use the spellcasting chassis to give the Ranger and pet special powerful abilities beyond the pet's normal statblock.

So for instance you could make a "Swipe" ability that lets the pet hit every enemy adjacent to them using their base attack. Or a "Paired Attack" ability at some level that gives the Ranger an attack while the pet does bonus damage kind of like one would get from the Booming/Green Flame Blade cantrips. Or perhaps a "Primal Rage" ability that gives the pet Temp HP at the top of each of the Ranger's turns equal to 2x the Pet Ability's (IE spell's) level. (I'm just spitballing here, don't take my math or balancing on any of this stuff as gospel.)

What you end up getting is a non-casting Ranger who instead gets powerful special maneuvers they have "trained" their pet to do that have the power level of spells, but which aren't. Yes, someone would need to create abilities for the pet for 1st thru 4th level slots (or at least refluff current Ranger spells to become them)... but it would certainly give pets more options and things to do while maintaining a modicum of balance since you are using an already-established mechanical system for it.
Wait what no! Why remove anything? You just add new abilities that use spell slots. Done. Now the ranger can choose in a fight or other challenge whether spells or special pet abilities are what is needed.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
Wait what no! Why remove anything? You just add new abilities that use spell slots. Done. Now the ranger can choose in a fight or other challenge whether spells or special pet abilities are what is needed.
It was mainly a way to make a non-casting Ranger. :) Use the spellcasting chart for Pet Abilities rather than spellcasting.

But sure... a person could absolutely make additional pet abilities to add to next to the spell list that the Ranger player could select from when Preparing spells/pet abilities each day if the player wanted to have both.
 

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